1.What is your earliest memory of writing?
I think I wrote my first short story when I was in third grade. All I remember is it was a long and complicated fairy tale with a triumphant female hero.
2. What inspires you?
People who make a lot out of a little inspire me. I grew up with opportunity and privilege and often feel I haven’t “earned” my place in the world. I am awed by those who overcome obstacles and pain and still manage to maintain optimism and generosity of spirit. It’s one reason mentoring in the workshops is so thrilling to me — most of our participants have been through so much, and are showing up to courageously explore their thoughts and feelings and share them with us. The participants in our workshops never fail to inspire me.
3. What do you think makes a good story, and what kinds of stories are you drawn to?
A good story is one that makes people think and feel. I like stories that challenge my world view and make me look at things in ways I maybe hadn’t before. The most powerful stories are the ones that can make me both laugh AND cry.
4. What are some of your favorite books, TV shows, movies?
Oh, there are so many over the decades. Off the top of my head… Books: Madame Bovary, As I Lay Dying, To the Lighthouse, 100 Years of Solitude, White Noise, Americanah. TV shows: Succession, Atlanta, Fleabag, Transparent, Mad Men, Borgen. Movies: Bunuel’s Viridiana (or anything else of his!), Dr. Strangelove, Local Hero, The Piano, A Woman Under the Influence, Kramer vs Kramer, After the Wedding (the original directed by Susanne Bier), to name just a few.
5. Tell us a little bit about your writing process.
I hate to admit this but I am all over the map. I tell my students they have to be disciplined and have a time and a place they always work, but I don’t take my own advice. I tend to percolate a lot and procrastinate about sitting in front of the computer, but when I finally do, it can all come out in a cascade of fast writing. I work a lot taking walks. I can’t tell you how many scenes I’ve written and a story or character arcs I’ve figured out in my head while I’m walking. It just sort of loosens up my brain. I’m sure there must be a physiological reason for it.
6. Do you have a favorite genre to write in? If so, what is it?
I write both comedy and drama. I find drama gratifying because you have to dig deep and be reflective. Comedy is just more fun. It’s great to spend a day making yourself laugh.
7. How does writing for film and tv differ from other types of writing?
The main challenge in film and TV is to externalize what is internal. You can’t just TELL your audience what your characters are thinking and feeling, you have to SHOW. You can only really write what can be seen, find a visual way for your audience to perceive the internal life. Rather than placing the highest value on descriptive language, you tell your story through action and behavior.
8. How do you make time for writing?
I was actually better at making time when I was busier with kids at home. I only had a certain number of hours of the day when they were in school and I could write, so I had to. Now they are grown and my time is my own and ironically I find it harder to make the time. But the difficulty only really comes at the start of a project, the “blank page.” Once I get going, I don’t have to make the time, the time makes itself because it’s what I most want to be doing.
9. Do you have a “writing quirk,” if so, what is it?
I guess maybe the walking thing is my quirk. Also, the repeated sudden need to get out of the chair and go wipe down the kitchen counter.
10. Any advice, tips, or guidance for anyone struggling with writing?
Keep at it. Find your own process — whatever works for you. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Also, nothing is a waste: every scene or page you throw out is a step you had to go through to get closer to what you’ll eventually feel good about.